After His baptism, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news! (Mark 1:15). It is easy to “believe.” Doing so doesn’t really cost you anything, at least at first. Turning that belief into true faith, is a process that could take time and could require sacrifice. But overall, to “believe” is easy. However, to “repent” is extremely difficult! Repenting requires you to admit you were wrong and the offended party was right. Repenting requires humility. Repenting also requires a change of actions. If you don’t stop doing what you repented of, you have not really repented. Repenting requires obedience.
If you want to catch a monkey in the jungle, drill a hole in a coconut and put food inside. The hole must be large enough for the monkey to get his hand in, but small enough that he cannot get it out once he grabs the food. Chain the coconut to a tree. Once the monkey grabs the food, he is stuck. Refusing to let the food go, he is in bondage to the coconut. Now all you have to do is come and collect the monkeys who, by their own choice, are bound. Repentance requires letting go.
The Prophet Malachi
Malachi’s prophecies are really a series of seven short sermons where the emphasis is more on exhortations than predictions. Today’s text (Malachi 2:1-9) is the third sermon, but to completely understand it, you have to go back and review the second sermon (Malachi 1:6-14). In that sermon, Malachi is rebuking the people, especially the priests, for not taking God and worship seriously. God says, “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name” (Malachi 1:6). He chastises the people (especially the priests) for offering crippled and blind animals for sacrifice instead of the best of what they had. He boldly proclaims that regardless of what the people do, “My name will be great among the nations…my name is to be feared among the nations” (Malachi 1:11 and 14).
After rebuking the people (especially the priests), in his third sermon, God, through His prophet Malachi, calls for the people (especially the priests) to repent! Before looking at this third of seven sermons, let me briefly talk about the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer. This doctrine is important for today’s applications.
Simply stated, the priesthood of the believer means that every follower of Jesus is a priest, with Jesus being the High Priest. What this means is that, because of the finished work of Christ, we can go boldly to the throne of God without the intercession of another human being. This is why we do communion the way we do—coming to the table and serving yourself. It is also why we emphasis the need for every believer to go into their communities and serve God by serving others. We are all representatives of God to men and men to God.
At the moment Jesus died on the cross the Bible tells us “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38). This curtain separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple. Only the High Priest was allowed to go into the Holy of Holies. The symbolism of this ripped curtain meant that now we can all go into the very throne room of God.
The writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Peter, quoting from the Old Testament, states, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
With that as a background, remember when we read today’s text, while God is talking to the Old Testament priests, but way of application, He is speaking to us all.
Malachi’s third sermon begins, “And now this admonition is for you, O priests” (Malachi 2:1). It is clear to whom God is speaking. What follows is a call to repentance and an extremely strong warning if you do not repent. Malachi continues, “‘If you do not listen, and if you do not set your heart to honor my name,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not set your heart to honor me’” (Malachi 2:2).
Harsh words, are they not? The idea behind, “If you do not listen,” is to repent, and if you do not repent, you will be cursed. What they need to repent of is they have not fulfilled their duties as priest and thus have not brought honor to God’s name. The “curses” will be outlined throughout this chapter. Maybe, the worse kind of curse is not actually a curse, but a “blessing” that is actually a curse. If I can be so bold, I think in context, the “blessing” that is actually a “curse,” is the deception of perceived success. In other words, the people were worshiping God. The priests were leading the worship. Their Temple (or church) was growing. They had great programs. But were blinded by the fact that what they were actually doing was bringing shame to the name of God.
Starting in Malachi 2:3, God details the curses. “Because of you I will rebuke your descendants…” (Malachi 2:3a). It should be a sobering thought to all of us that how we live our lives, not only affects me, but my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. It is a serious thing to despise the name of the LORD. It gets worse. God says, “I will spread on your faces the offal from your festival sacrifices…” (Malachi 2:3b). A not so glorious picture is painted here.
When animals were sacrificed on the altar, quite a mess was made. Often, the animals would lose control of their bowels. Next, the priests would “gut” them and all their internal organs would splat on the floor. The altar was not a beautiful sight. Rather it was one that carried the stench of death, dung, blood, and intestines. God is saying that if the priests did not repent He was going to rub their faces with the concoction of gore on the altar after a day of animal sacrifices. Why don’t we see a Scripture meme of this verse on Pinterest? This could have been a popular euphemism similar to our phrase, “I’m going to rub your noses in it.” The sight, and the smell, of this disgrace would follow the priests for a long time afterward. That is the meaning of the phrase, “and you will be carried off with it” (Malachi 2:3c). Furthermore, by rubbing their faces with the blood and gore and dirt and dung from beneath the altar, the priest would be made unclean and disqualified from serving as priests. Unless they repented, God was saying He would remove them from office. It is a serious thing to despise the name of the LORD.
There is something important about these two curses that must not be overlooked. These curses are consequences of disobedience and unrepentance. God is not the bad guy, cursing innocent people! He is not sitting in heaven, throwing lightning bolts at people He doesn’t like. No! Negatively affecting your family, and being humiliated in public, are results of living life your own way, by your own rules, without regard for the things of God. The wrath of God is when God removes His hand of protection from you and allows you to wallow in your own sins. The wrath of God is when God says, “You made your bed. Now lie in it.” The Apostle Paul clearly explains this in Romans 1:18-32. Among other things, in that passage, he states, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men…For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him…Therefore God gave them over to the sinful desires of their hearts…” (Romans 1:18, 21, and 24).
In the next part of this sermon, God says that the reason for these curses is because they have violated the covenant He made with Levi to be the tribe of priests. By warning them of these curses, God is giving the priests one more chance to repent. God always sends a warning, to give us one more chance to repent, before the curses come. He is a gracious God. We best listen to Him. Through Malachi, God says, “‘And you will know that I have sent you this admonition so that my covenant with Levi may continue,’ says the LORD Almighty” (Malachi 2:4).
Anytime God’s covenant with His people has been broken, it is people who have broken it. It is never God. In God’s sovereignty, God chose the make Levi the tribe of priests. For a long time, the tribe of Levi lived up to that covenant. Malachi continues, ‘My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin” (Malachi 2:5-6). God makes a covenant with us, not to make our lives more difficult, but to give us “life and peace.” When God’s servants (“priests” or “ministers”) are doing what they have been called to do, and teaching truths, people turn from their sins, and there is indeed, “life and peace” throughout the land.
Do you see the connection God is making? The health of a nation is not found in the health of its political leaders, but in the health of its religious leaders. We have things so backwards in this country. We have religious leaders, codling to political leaders, looking for favor when our favor comes from God’s covenant with us. We look to political parties and political ideologies to solve our problems, while our problems could be solved through humility and repentance, turning back to God who promises “life and peace.” Unfortunately, instead of repenting, we continue down the road to destruction.
The sermon continues, “‘For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge (the key word is “ought”), and from his mouth men should seek instruction (the key word is “should”)—because he is the messenger (remember, “Malachi” means “messenger”) of the LORD Almighty. But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble, you have violated the covenant with Levi,’ says the LORD Almighty. So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law” (Malachi 2:7-9).
Each and every one of us are priests. We are God’s ambassadors in this foreign land. We have been called and commissioned to teach the truth and serve the people. Our lives are our sermons. Here are some haunting questions based on these last two verses: By the things we say and do, are we pointing others to Jesus or are we causing them to stumble? Are we building bridges to God, or are we erecting walls of separation? Are we making God’s name great, or are we “despised and humiliated before all the people”? Are we teaching the whole truth of God’s Word, or are we partial to the parts that make us look good while ignoring the rest?
Remember, the prophecies of Malachi were written to the people of God, not a person of God. So, read those final verses again, in light of what is going on in our country and among our key evangelical leaders. While they should be teaching truth and turning people from sin, have they shown partiality to certain people, and certain aspects of God’s law, while ignoring others and other aspects of God’s law? As a result, in the eyes of the people in our society, are they looked at with honor and respect, or have they been “despised and humiliated”?
The time to repent is now!
May God have mercy on us.
Let’s end today where we began. Jesus’ very first message, after He was baptized, was to repent. Before Mark tells us about Jesus’ baptism and message of repentance, he tells us that John the Baptist “came baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). This message of repentance was the most consistent message Jesus preached. In all times and every situation, His advice was to repent. Jesus preached repentance to both the powerful and to the poor. We like to hear of Jesus’ love and grace, but it is difficult to listen to His message of repentance. Why? Because repentance means that we have sinned, that we were wrong, and that we need forgiveness. Repentance requires change. Repentance is both the doorway and the pathway to eternal life. It is the doorway we must walk through, “repent and believe” (Mark 1:15). It is the pathway we must walk on, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Is there a sin (or sins) you need to repent?
What are you waiting for?
There is an old saying that goes, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is today.” Likewise, the best time to repent was yesterday. The second best time is today.